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Kikuchi Returns, Falters To Dodgers, Umps

But mostly the umps.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After a thirteen day layoff, punctuated by a scratched start due to neck spasms, Yusei Kikuchi took the mound against future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. Despite Kikuchi’s notable rust, it was shaping up to be quite the pitchers duel between Kikuchi and Kershaw. That is, until home plate umpire Adrian Johnson joined the fray in the third inning.

After an Enrique Hernandez single and Matt Barnes walk, the Dodgers were threatening with no outs and runners on first and second. Kikuchi got ahead to an 0-2 count and tossed in a cutter at the bottom of the zone:

Oof. That looks an awful lot like a strike. In fairness, the on-screen strike zones aren’t always completely accurate. though. What say, you, Baseball Savant?

It’s not the most egregious call ever, but it looks like Beaty got away with what should have been a called third strike. Beaty then proceeds to battle back into a 2-2 count, and Kikuchi turns to his slider to put him away:

Beaty starts strolling away from the plate, given he swung through a slider in a two-strike count, but Adrian Johnson calls a foul tip.

Here it is again, this time, in slo-mo:

It was decidedly not a foul tip, and serves as the second pitch that should have put Beaty away. After getting away with a missed called third strike and what can only be described as a minor crime, Beaty receives a middle-middle cutter, which he turns on to plate a run.

The Dodgers are a difficult enough opponent. Add in a few botched calls, and you’re probably toast. But what if we could make Kikuchi’s first game back as arduous as possible? What if his catcher joined in on the fun, too?

Joseph Odom obliges, with a passed ball:

Hernandez comes in to score from third, and Beaty moves over to third. But the Mariners are still reeling from the effects of Johnson’s missed calls. Because of Beaty’s presence on third, the Mariners are forced to play their infield in, and AJ Pollock pokes an RBI single through the left side that’s probably not a hit if the infield is in their normal positioning.

Kikuchi deserved a lot better this game. Sure, he struggled with fastball command — he had just a 13% CSW, which is less than half the league average — but his cutter and slider picked up the slack and put in the legwork tonight. And hey, perhaps his numbers look different and he makes the necessary adjustments if he wasn’t left out to rot for dozens of pitches due to a few iffy calls. Who’s to say?

Regardless, the third inning obviously ravaged any chance the Mariners had at winning:

In any case, against the Dodgers, you’re not afforded any wiggle room. At least not when you’ve got Sam Haggerty atop your lineup. Kershaw? He doesn’t need this cushion. He went on to cruise 7.0 innings, striking out 11 hitters, with his lone miscue being a home run to the revitalized Kyle Seager.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Ljay Newsome made his debut, and he looked like a pitcher who will be a contributor in some regard at the major league level.

Here he is, looking incredibly sweaty:

knees weak, arms are heavy

He didn’t look like the pitcher who had one of the most elite K/BB ratios in the minor leagues in 2019, but body fluids notwithstanding, Newsome certainly looked the part of a major league pitcher. He threw his fastball for strikes, mixed in a fringe changeup, and flaunted a curveball that looks like it could be a plus offering. Paired with his fastball that’s he’s weaponized in the past, you can see why he overwhelmed hitters in the minors last year.

Here he is, blowing by Barnes with a 2-2 fastball:

Not exactly overpowering by velocity, but plenty of ride on that fastball, and that’s going to play — especially up in the zone.

Another forgettable loss, but the Mariners are one step closer to securing a draft pick that will (hopefully) net them a player like Kumar Rocker — I think we’re obligated to mention this at this point — and it notches another data point for guys like Kyle Lewis, Newsome, Dylan Moore, and Shed Long. After all, this is what we signed up for this year. A lot of fun, a lot of talent, and a lot of ugly. (Okay, mostly ugly.) At the very least, we got to witness Kershaw continue to defy his declining velocity and peripherals. Plus, with this one, we get to go to bed on time.